A Name in Archaeology
“Have you ever seen the mailmare get so mad before?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“She looked like she was gonna rip Daring Do’s head off!” Scootaloo shouted over the buzz of her own wings.
“I don’t know her very well,” Sweetie Belle continued, “but she’s always seemed like just a nice, quiet pony with a little bit of a…”
“Lazy eye?” Scootaloo finished, making the trio giggle.
Sweetie shifted inside the squat wagon. “I don’t know, it just surprised me. She’s always seemed so sweet.”
“I’ve heard Rainbow Dash complain about her before,” Scootaloo said. “She says she means well—always trying to help—but she’s sorta clumsy.”
“Rarity says the same thing,” Sweetie Belle revealed as her ears drooped. “I feel bad for her. But when Aloe came in the other day for her manecut, they talked about how much better she’s getting at delivering the mail. That’s good, right?”
Her two passengers grasped the edges of the wagon as Scootaloo yanked on the handlebars to make a turn. Their makeshift vehicle drifted around the corner, spraying clouds of dust and tiny pebbles over the road. “Yeah, I guess so,” she answered, grinning at her feat.
“She’s Dinky’s mom, ain’t she?” Apple Bloom asked.
Sweetie Belle gasped. “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that! I’ve seen her pick Dinky up from school.”
“What’s ‘er name, anyway?”
“I don’t know. Rainbow Dash always calls her Derpy.”
They hid their muzzles behind their hooves to stifle a fit of giggles, only to have it become raucous laughter.
“Ah might not’a’been payin’ close enough attention, but that whole thing with her and the other pony you two reco’nized went right over mah head,” Apple Bloom admitted. “Can somepony please explain to me what’s goin’ on?”
“The yellow pony we crashed into is Daring Do,” Scootaloo summed up, swerving around a patch of rough pebbles in the road. “She has a ton of books written about her.”
“Books?” repeated Apple Bloom.
“Adventure stories!” Sweetie Belle expounded. “They’re so good. I’ve read almost all of them!”
“I tried reading a few,” Scootaloo said with a shrug. “Words aren’t really my thing. But Rainbow Dash loves those books, and she loves Daring Do! And now she’s right here in Ponyville!”
“Why d’ya think she came here?”
“I dunno,” Sweetie Belle answered. “Maybe she’s on another adventure.”
“Or a vacation,” Scootaloo said snidely. “Remember we’re talking about Ponyville here.”
“What kinds o’ adventures does she usually go on?” asked Apple Bloom.
“She looks for stuff,” Scootaloo blurted.
“She does more than that!” Sweetie snapped, turning to the questioner with a tall smile. “She’s amazing, Apple Bloom! Daring Do travels all around the world collecting rare, magical artifacts and keeping them away from villains who would use their power to take over the world!”
“Wow! She must have the most amazing Cutie Mark ever!” Apple Bloom yelled.
“She’s not real, you dodo,” Scootaloo reminded them. “I mean… she is real, we just saw her, but… she doesn’t actually do all that stuff.”
Sweetie frowned. “How do you know? Maybe they’re true stories after all.”
“Part of me hopes so,” Scootaloo said, “because the cooler Daring Do is in real life, the cooler Rainbow Dash is gonna think I am for introducing them to each other!”
Apple Bloom was rubbing the bottom of her chin. “So… Daring Do is just like us, except instead of crusadin’ fer Cutie Marks, she’s crusadin’ fer magical arcticats?”
“Artifacts,” Sweetie corrected. “You know, like special crystals and ancient statues, that kind of thing.”
“Golly, that sounds pretty amazing.”
“Of course she’s amazing! She’s more than amazing! She’s Rainbow Dash’s hero! She’s super-ultra-extra-uh… whatever!” Scootaloo’s purple eyes glimmered with rotating stars. “She’s like… she’s like Celestia without the horn! Or Mare Do Well without the mask!”
“Mare Do Well? Who gives a hoot’n’holler about Mare Do Well anymore?” Apple Bloom chided. “Mah sister threw away her costume after Rainbow learned her lesson.”
“Actually, I think Rarity kept it up in her—”
“There it is!” Scootaloo interrupted, spotting Rainbow’s drifting house above a straight stretch of the dirt road. “Come on, girls, make some noise! She’s probably still asleep.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders all shouted at the top of their lungs for the fastest mare in Equestria, but even when all their throats were sore and only Scootaloo continued to croak at the cloud, she didn’t appear.
“Maybe she’s not home,” offered Sweetie Belle.
Scootaloo growled. “Where else would she be this early in the morning?”
“Maybe she’s waterin’ Granny’s new lilac garden like mah sister asked her to a week ago,” Apple Bloom grumbled with familial disappointment.
After readjusting her helmet, Scootaloo gave a little sigh and turned the blue scooter and its red caboose around. “It’s a start, at least. Watch the lowest clouds for a multi-colored tail, girls. That’s where she likes to nap.”
With three pairs of big round eyes sweeping back and forth across the sky, the trio sped off toward Sweet Apple Acres.
“Derpy?” Twilight Sparkle whispered at the cringing mare. “Are you feeling all right?” The sound of Ditzy’s grinding teeth sent shivers down the unicorn’s spine.
“What are you doing here, Derpy?” Rainbow asked accusingly as Rarity helped her to her hooves.
The grey mare’s reddened face whirled to the group in the doorway. “My name is not Derpy!” she shrieked. “It’s Ditzy! DITZY DOO!”
Rarity and Rainbow Dash were shocked into complete silence at the sudden outburst and Pinkie Pie’s bottom lip quivered as her pupils grew.
Twilight took a step into the room. “It’s okay, Ditzy. Everypony’s on edge here.”
“There’s no need to flip out on us,” Rainbow slurred as her vision refocused.
“Yeah, Ditz, keep your cool,” Daring reiterated, dropping to the floor with a confident click of her hooves as she tucked her wings to her sides. “Besides, it’s nopony’s fault but your own if these ladies don’t know your name. How long have you lived here, five years?”
“Seven,” Ditzy corrected automatically. Her eyelid twitched and she lifted a hoof to rub at it.
“Wow. Seven years and they don’t know your name.” She clicked her tongue. “What, have you been living under a rock or something?”
“Shut up, Daring!” Her harshness seemed to smack the room’s other occupants across their faces. “You have no idea what’s going on here. I want you to leave immediately and let me handle this.”
“No!” Daring and Dash said together, briefly making eye contact.
“Please, Ditzy,” Twilight coaxed, trotting closer to the frazzled pegasus with a look of utmost concern. “Please, what’s going on? How do you know Daring? Why haven’t you told us your name?”
“I knew her name,” Rainbow said. She winced at a fading headache. “I just thought ‘Derpy’ was a funny nickname. She’s worked under me every Winter Wrap Up since she moved here.”
“Misdirecting the birds, if I remember correctly,” Rarity added under her breath.
Ditzy caught the remark. “I’ll admit I’ve made some mistakes. I’m not as sharp as I used to be, thanks to these stupid things.” She gestured at her eyes, one aimed near Twilight while the other seemed to be examining the ceiling. “But I’ve gotten better! I’ve done my best. And I can help you, Mrs. Cake.” She turned to the shaking mother. “You don’t need to listen to this liar. I promise, I know how to help your children.”
“What?” Daring yelled. “Liar, am I?” She stepped in front of her sister and smiled at the conscious parent standing near the crib. “Don’t pay her any mind, Cakester. I’m the greatest explorer there ever was. If anypony can rescue your doubtlessly adorable foals, it’s me.”
“Yeeeah!” Rainbow Dash cheered, pumping a hoof above her head.
Ditzy bared her teeth. “Mrs. Cake, I can assure you that this fraud will only make the situation worse. If you’ll please ask her to leave, I’ll go over everything you need to know.”
“Fraud? Liar? Selfish, washed-up idiot?” Daring scoffed. “Got any more names you wanna throw at me, Ditz?” She tossed her mane behind her ears and gave her sister a critical glare. “Look, you just asked me if I had a plan for my next big adventure. Well… I didn’t. But now I do. I’m gonna pick a partner, catch a train to the coast, and do everything in my power to find those twins! Try to call that one ‘selfish’.”
She lifted her chin and smirked at her fuming sister as Rainbow Dash’s pupils shriveled in the doorway.
“Pick a… partner?” she echoed in a squeak.
“Look at me, Ditzy!” Twilight begged. “What is going on?”
“You can s-save my children?” Mrs. Cake whimpered.
“Yes,” Ditzy and Daring answered at the same time, shooting each other competitive glances.
Rarity groaned and raised her voice to catch their full attention. “Would somepony be so kind as to enlighten those of us who are completely in the dark?”
“Sure thing,” Daring began. “It’s not all that complicated, really. See, Ditzy here and I are—”
“Old acquaintances,” Ditzy butted in. “We met at college, had a few classes together—”
“Oh, hush up, you wall-eyed weirdo,” Daring mocked, knocking Ditzy “playfully” in the back of the head. “Why are you so set on keeping it a secret? I’m not ashamed of our relationship one bit.”
Twilight stepped back in shock while Rarity’s cheeks flushed red. Pinkie Pie started to giggle.
“What?” Rainbow practically screamed.
“No, no, no, not that kind of relationship,” Daring corrected, waving her forehooves dismissively. “Ditzy and I are sisters!”
Though Rarity and Twilight looked momentarily relieved, Pinkie continued to giggle and Rainbow’s disbelief only doubled. “WHAT!?”
With a swift flap of her wings, Rainbow zipped across the room and pressed her snout against the mailmare’s. “You’ve been sisters with Daring Do this whole time? And you never told me?”
“Yeah, Ditz.” Daring sat on her haunches and crossed her forelegs over her chest, swishing her grey tail over the floor. “Why haven’t you told anypony about me?”
“We never were that close of friends,” Ditzy reminded Rainbow Dash, trying to direct her eyes at the blue mare’s unnervingly familiar pair. She turned her head at Daring to add, “And I never told anypony for the same reason you keep your name off the books: because in real life you aren’t half the Daring Do everypony thinks they know and love.”
“I’d venture to say that I am about half,” Daring teased with a knowing wink.
“BE QUIET!” Twilight yelled, stomping her hooves against the ground. “Everypony, stop bickering. We need to focus on the matter at hoof.” When her audience had fallen still and silent, Twilight heaved a grateful sigh and asked, “Ditzy, you said you think you know where the foals are?”
“I do, too!” Daring piped up, only to shrink back at Twilight’s glower.
“I don’t know exactly where they are,” Ditzy said, ignoring Daring’s pout, “but I’m almost certain of who took them.”
“And do you think you know why?” Rarity asked.
Ditzy hesitated for a moment too long before answering, “No.” It was met by suspicious squints from both Rarity and Twilight, but Pinkie Pie stepped in before they questioned her further.
“You think it was a servant of the Sultan of Haissan?” she rhythmically inquired.
Ditzy rubbed a hoof along the nape of her neck. “Let me take a look at this room. Please go downstairs, all of you. If you’ll give me five minutes to investigate, I’ll come down and tell you everything.” Her left eye drifted and she covered it with a hoof. “Well, maybe ten minutes.”
The whole party silently agreed. Twilight and Rarity helped poor Mrs. Cake down the stairs, steading her on either side. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were just as helpful, though much less graceful, with carrying her fallen husband out of the room. Daring tried to stay behind, opening her mouth once the others had left.
“Don’t. You. Say. One. Word.”
Daring slowly clamped her jaw and tightened her lips against her teeth.
Steaming tears rimmed the bottom of Ditzy’s eyes. She jabbed a hoof in Daring’s direction with every grunted word. “Get out of this town, Daring. Leave them alone. Don’t come back.”
“But this is it, Sis!” Daring declared. “This is the perfect big adventure! Do you have any idea how well a book about this would sell? Daring Do, selflessly risking her life across the sea to rescue stolen orphan foals!”
“They’re not orphans!”
Daring shrugged. “Hey, entertainment value, remember?”
It was all the twitching mailmare could do not to tackle her sister and pummel the living daylights out of her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t risk disrupting the crime scene any further if she hoped to scrounge up some clues.
“Go downstairs, Daring,” Ditzy commanded. “I’ll deal with you when I have a better idea as to what’s going on.”
As Daring trudged out the door, she sighed in frustration. “You always make things so complicated, Ditz. Can’t you ever just jump into something headfirst?”
Ditzy’s ears flattened against her skull. “I’ve had bad experiences with headfirst,” she grumbled under her breath. Daring didn’t hear, and Ditzy got straight to work.
Though she hadn’t gathered evidence for years, she remembered how to start: identify the out-of-place. With that in mind, she moved toward a rubber chicken lying beneath the open window.
“Twilight, you’ve gotta introduce me to Daring!” Rainbow whispered into her friend’s ear.
“What?” Twilight paused from reviving Mr. Cake for a moment to give to Rainbow a bewildered look. “Why me? I don’t know her any better than you do!”
“Sure you do! You guys met yesterday right here in the Corner!”
“We hardly met, Rainbow. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble introducing yourself. Look, she’s coming down the stairs now.”
Rainbow whirled around to see, biting her lip with nervous excitement.
“Hi, Daring!” Pinkie greeted with respectful enthusiasm. “What are you doing down here? Aren’t you going to help your sister investigate?”
“Nah, that was never really my—” Daring began, but stopped herself with a forced cough. “I-I mean… I tried to help, but she wouldn’t have it! Poor, stubborn thing. She always did want to be a world-class explorer like her big sis.” She posed heroically, doubling the size of Rainbow’s pupils. “I thought I’d give her a chance to try her hoof at forensics. Who knows, maybe she’ll catch something I didn’t already notice when I flew through the window.”
“I doubt that!” Rainbow exclaimed, suddenly blushing at her own volume.
Daring clicked her tongue as she pointed a hoof at her. “I like this kid,” she said with a wink, flooding Rainbow’s Joy-o-Meter past its recommended volume.
“So they’re true, then? Your books?” Twilight asked as Daring took a seat in one of Sugarcube Corner’s empty booths.
“Pretty much,” Daring answered, inspecting a forehoof. “I may have spiced up the narrative here and there for entertainment’s sake, but what respectable author wouldn’t?”
“Bluish Carol,” Pinkie answered, making Twilight groan.
“Don’t listen to Pinkie Pie,” she said, patting Mr. Cake on the head while his eyelids began to flutter. “She has something of a wild taste in literature.”
“Ah, the wild one,” Daring acknowledged, crossing her arms. “A pony I met this morning told me about you. You live here in the bakery?”
Pinkie nodded, putting a loving foreleg around Mrs. Cake’s side. “Yep, that’s me! I’m a proud resident of the finest snack house in Equestria.”
“Snack house?” Mr. Cake yelped, scrambling to his hooves with the help of Twilight’s magic.
Pinkie giggled. “I thought that might wake you up!”
Mr. Cake was not amused. “What happened? Where are the foals? Have we found them yet?”
His wife shook with another wave of sobs. Pinkie’s smile morphed into a sympathetic frown as she rubbed Cup’s back. “It’s okay, Mrs. Cake. We’ve got Daring Do on our side! We’ll find them for sure!”
“Just what are you doing in Ponyville, Daring?” Twilight asked.
“Visiting Ditzy,” she replied nonchalantly, sweeping her eyes over the decorated ceiling. “I hadn’t seen her in a while. Thought I’d drop in.”
“What luck that you’d be here to help us!” Rarity cried. “If those novels of yours really are true, we couldn’t ask for a more capable pony.”
“Ditzy didn’t seem very happy to see you,” Twilight acknowledged.
“Yeah, we’ve never exactly been best friends,” Daring lied. “She’s always been jealous of me. I don’t blame her. She’s a nice mare, but a little on the, uh… derpy side.”
Rainbow Dash was the only one to snicker. Twilight felt the comment was rather uncalled for, and Rarity’s expression affirmed she thought the same. Pinkie was too busy consoling the Cakes to express her own opinion.
Daring smiled at Rainbow again. “I’m glad somepony can keep a sense of humor in a jam. That’s a good trait, kid. Another one we share.”
Rainbow froze under the attention of her idol but managed to squeak, “Another one?”
“Eyes,” was all Daring said, gesturing to Rainbow’s pair and then to her own.
“Oh, yeah!” Rainbow realized. Her fuchsia irises sparkled with pride.
Satisfied, Daring switched her focus back to the frizziest mare in the room. “So, Pinkie Pie. You’re one of the Elements of Harmony, huh?”
“Yep! We all are!” Her eyebrows tilted as she squeezed the older ponies flanking her. “Well, except these two.”
Daring did a double take. “Wait… all four of you? In the same room?”
“It shouldn’t be all that surprising, darling,” Rarity said. The pet name, though casual, made Daring’s eye twitch. “The six of us spend much of our time together. We’ve all remained very close friends since the incident with Nightmare Moon.”
“Is that so?”
“You can’t go through something that dramatic without forging a special bond, can you?” Rarity asked.
“Wow…” Daring laughed and leapt out from the booth. “I’m in a room with four of the Elements of Harmony! It really is an honor, girls. Sorry if I’ve been acting curt.”
Twilight was somehow surprised by the genuine apology. “Why the interest in the Elements?” she asked.
“Are you kidding me?” Daring pushed herself into the air, sweeping her hooves left and right as she spoke. “The Elements were every explorer’s dream back in the day! The legend of the most magical artifacts in all of ponydom was a magnet to mares like me. Everypony who wanted to make a name in archeology studied the Reference Guide and took a stab at the Everfree Forest, but nopony ever found the Ancient Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, until you lot, of course.” She shook her head. “I spent two full weeks in that bush. Never even caught a glimpse of that castle. Word is you all found it in one day.”
“I haven’t thought of it like that before,” Twilight admitted.
“You must have had some powerful magic on your side,” Daring mused. Twilight’s brow furrowed in thought while the mustard pegasus moved on.
“So you’re Pinkie Pie,” Daring said again, nodding in her direction.
“Pinkamena Diane Pie,” she extended, “Element of Laughter!”
Daring smirked. “It’s a pleasure, Pinkie.” She looked around the room. “But that’s the only name I know.”
The purple unicorn lifted a hoof to her chest and said, “I’m Twilight Sparkle, Element of Magic.”
Daring’s wings snapped against her sides and she dropped like a rock. “Princess Celestia’s personal pupil and protégé?”
Twilight tried to stifle a flattered grin. “Why, yes.”
“You’re an Element of Harmony, too?” Daring gawked. “Luna’s nipple, that is impressive.”
Rainbow Dash cackled at the profanity while Twilight’s face flushed even deeper. Before she could even scold Daring for blaspheming the Princess’s name like that, the brash adventuress had passed her attention to another flustered unicorn.
“I am Rarity, the Element of Generosity,” she said. “I manage Carousel Boutique, the local dress shop and beauty salon.”
“You sell all sorts of clothes?” Daring asked.
“Well, I certainly make all sorts of clothes. Why? Is there something in particular you’re wanting?”
“Might be,” she teased with a grin, sidestepping around the mare and sizing up Rainbow Dash.
Rainbow used every available ounce of willpower in her entire body to keep from screaming. She even managed to pull off one of her famously confident expressions while she announced, “I’m Rainbow Dash, head weathermare of Ponyville and winner of the Best Young Flier Competition.”
Rarity gave her subtle glance that encouraged her to add, “Oh, and the Element of Loyalty.”
“Loyalty, hmm?” Daring repeated, tapping her hoof against the floor. “Yeah, that could work.” She suddenly straightened up, her ears flicking toward the ceiling. “Oh-ho-ho! So you’re Rainbow Dash!”
The blue pegasus let slip a tiny squeak of joy. “You’ve heard of me?”
“Yeah, I have! Some little orange filly was talking about you earlier today.”
Rainbow Dash’s face turned pale. “Scootaloo met you? And she didn’t even tell me!? That little squirt!”
“Oh, no, she was very excited to find you,” Daring corrected. “It was just this morning. She took off with a couple other youngsters and told me to stay put.” She chuckled and patted Rainbow on the back. “Looks like you found me one way or another. Good to meet’cha, kid.”
Rainbow was too stunned to even say “Back atcha,” but before an awkward silence killed whatever mood they’d set, the sound of hoofsteps above their heads meant Ditzy was on her way down.
“Do you think she found anything?” Mrs. Cake asked nervously.
“I’m sure she did, Mrs. Cake!” Pinkie assured her brightly, though Daring caught the worry building in the mare’s blue eyes. “The Sisters Doo are on the case! We’ll find Pound and Pumpkin in no time.”
“Two!” they all heard Ditzy shout before they saw her face. She barreled down the stairs and slid to a halt as far from her sister as she could. “There were two!”
“Two… foals?” Twilight asked.
Ditzy shook her head. “Two foalnappers. Mrs. Cake, do know anything about the rubber chicken in your children’s room?”
“I set it up to squeak if the window was opened,” she remembered.
Pinkie Pie gasped. “I heard it squeak! Last night, Rarity and I heard it through the wall!”
Rarity looked as though she was about to faint. “Oh, what have I done? We could have stopped them!”
“It’s nopony’s fault,” Ditzy said to silence them. “It’s a good thing you put the chicken there, Mrs. Cake. It must have started them enough to do a sloppy job. I found hair from two different ponies caught in the windowsill and a feather on the ground outside. Definitely two Haissanic pegasi, one with a brown tail and one with a very dark blue, nearly black tail. As much as I hate to admit it, Daring is right. We need to send someone after them.”
“But… why did they take my children?” Mrs. Cake wailed.
“I’ll tell you as soon as I know for sure,” Ditzy promised. “We don’t have much time. If we leave now, we might be able to reach the coast before the next ship to Haissan embarks.”
“You’re going?” Twilight asked.
“Oh, no you’re not!” Daring eyed Ditzy from under her brow, letting a few clumps of her grey mane dangle between them. “This is my adventure and you can’t have it.”
“Believe me, Daring, this is the last thing I want to do, but if we’re going to find the twins as quickly as possible—”
“Nuh-uh! No way! I already gave you your chance and you turned me down!”
“This isn’t a game, Daring! This isn’t one of your stupid stories! We’re talking about rescuing innocent children here!”
“I know that! I’m gonna rescue those kids, all right, and I’m gonna do it my way… with the help of my new partner!”
Ditzy felt like screaming. “You don’t have a new partner, Daring! No one would be stupid enough to—”
“I’ll do it!” Rainbow Dash yelled. The sisters turned to her with expressions of mortification and thrill, respectively.
“You will?” Daring squealed.
“You would.” Ditzy facehoofed.
“I knew you were the one, kid!” Daring proclaimed, diving to the sky blue mare and taking her by the shoulders. “Somehow I just knew. You’ve got what it takes! Maybe it’s those stripes in your hair, or that rasp in your voice, or that fire in your eyes, but you’ve got it! And the Element of Loyalty to boot? You might as well be hoofing me Celestia herself!”
“I might as well be hoofing you a blunt hoof to the snout!” Ditzy blared, jolting the room’s more sensitive inhabitants. “Rainbow Dash can’t be your partner, Daring. A partner is supposed to the other piece of the puzzle, someone who can do everything you can’t and come up with new ideas to solve the problems you’re going to face.”
“Different parts of an apple pie,” Rarity muttered.
“Yes! Exactly.” Ditzy gestured to the seamstress gratefully. “She can’t be your partner, Daring, because she practically is you!”
“You’ll get stuck at every twist and turn and grow frustrated with each other—”
“STOP IT, DITZY!” Daring lunged forward and smacked her sister across the face with her wing. “What do you know about twists and turns? You’re just a mailmare in a tiny village! I’m Daring Do, the greatest explorer who ever lived! And with two of the Elements of Harmony on my side, I can get those foals back before the end of the day!”
“Don’t be making promises you can’t keep,” Ditzy warned her, rubbing her cheek.
“Two of the Elements?” Rarity asked.
Without so much as looking at her sister, Daring scooped Rarity into her forehooves. “We’re gonna need some cool outfits.”
She nodded at Dash and whisked out the doorway, paying no heed to her passenger’s wails of protest. With her head weighted down by a mesmerized beam, Rainbow Dash whipped her tail with a crack and soared after them to Carousel Boutique. Rarity’s scream faded into the distance, leaving an assortment of dumbstruck ponies in its wake.
After several seconds, Twilight broke the silence.
“What did she mean, new partner?”